Lignin – a sustainable alternative to fossil-derived raw materials

From the starting material to the final product

Dr. Moritz Leschinsky with a model for using waste timber from sawmills
© Fraunhofer / Sven Doering / Agentur Focus
Dr. Moritz Leschinsky with a model for using waste timber from sawmills

Throughout the entire value chain of developing lignin-based products, from extraction and modification to analysis of this biopolymer, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is pooling expertise across all institutes conducting research in this field and creating a central resource for industry, science and politics. 

Lignin, one of the most common natural biopolymers, is a unique, regenerative and biogenic source of bio-based aromatic compounds. Aromatic compounds are an important chemical group for applications in polymers, adhesives, coatings and antioxidants.

In the paper industry, lignin is a plentiful byproduct. The kraft pulping process produces around 50 million tons of lignin-containing black liquor. The concentrated black liquor is then burnt at the pulp factories to meet their own energy needs. However, the material utilization of lignin has so far remained far below the theoretical possibilities. It requires a suitable method of extraction and, if necessary, modification of the raw material so that it can be used in polyurethane or other plastics, for example. Using lignin could save large quantities of petrochemical raw materials, opening up access to a wide range of green product classes.

Tapping into lignin as a bio-based raw material − pooling Fraunhofer expertise and services

Are you a start-up, SME or large corporation looking for bio-based solutions? As your partner, we can offer our combined expertise and support you with your projects. We can help you to get a head start in advancing research and development.   

The central office of the Fraunhofer Strategic Research Field Bioeconomy is the first port of call for your requests and where you can talk directly with Fraunhofer experts. We will discuss your concerns with you and find the best way for us to collaborate. Please get in touch!

Our range of services

We have expertise in every stage of the lignin value chain.


  • Solubility tests
  • Composition: purity and secondary component measurement
  • Functional groups (e.g., hydroxyl groups using 31P NMR spectroscopy)
  • Structural units and chemical process reaction monitoring using 31P NMR, 2D NMR (HSQC) and ATR-FTIR spectroscopy
  • Molecular mass measurement
  • Thermal properties assessment (e.g., glass transition temperature)
  • Characterization of odor properties and emission measurement
  • Mechanical, thermomechanical and structural characterization of lignin-based products
  • Morphological characteristic determination for lignin-based products (e.g., particle size)
  • Evaluation of adhesive properties of lignin-based products
  • Biodegradability assessment of lignin-based products

Lignin extraction/isolation and purification

  • Solvent-based pulping up to pilot scale (organic solvents using ethanol-water solution, for example)
  • Alkaline pulping process up to pilot scale

Lignocellulose bio-refinement

  • Raw material provision
  • Scaling up of extraction, modification and downstream processing (separation and product purification)
  • Consultation and networking

Lignin functionalization and modification

  • Electrochemical depolymerization
  • Grafting new functional groups
  • Electrochemical lignin upgrading
  • Functionalization of lignin (degradation products) and lignin-derived aromatics using enzymes and whole-cell catalysis
  • Functionalization of lignin (degradation products) and lignin-derived aromatics with chemical-catalytic processes using green, sustainable chemistry and sustainable engineering principles
  • Addition of functional groups for use as flame retardant additives
  • Base-catalyzed depolymerization to oligomers and monomers (aromatics, phenols)

Material development using lignin

  • Synthesis of lignin nanoparticles and capsules in batch and continuous processes
  • Development of thermoplastic lignin derivates
  • Lignin-based duromers and composites
  • Lignin-bonded insulation boards made from renewable raw materials
  • Production of aromatic synthetic components from various types of lignin
  • Lignin as a precursory material for carbon fibers

Thermoplastic lignin processing with bio- and petrol-based matrix materials

  • Compounds and additives
  • Blown and flat film manufacturing
  • 3D printing, including 3D printing filaments
  • Thermoforming
  • Spinning technologies for fiber production
  • Injection molding
  • Optimization of processing properties and methods

ALIGN – Biobased Aromatics from LIGNin


Study and scaling of lignin extraction and depolymerization processes




OrganoPOR – Sustainable and cost-effective thermal insulation made from natural materials


Innovative thermal insulation made from inexpensive residual and waste materials from agriculture and forestry




LIGNOBITUMEN – lignin as an environmentally friendly alternative for asphalt construction

Partial substitution of fossil bitumen binders with inexpensive renewable raw materials


LigOdor – odor reduction in thermoplastic lignin blends

Development of lignin-based polymer blends for exterior and interior use